Friday, July 30, 2010

Life without Murali, Jayasuriya and Vaas

Sri Lankan cricket is bracing itself for life without three of its greatest ever players.

Spinner Muttiah Muralitharan retired from Test cricket after taking his 800th wicket in a victory over India, while Sanath Jayasuriya and Chaminda Vaas - who have already ended their Test careers - are on the verge of bowing out of international cricket for good.

These three veterans, along with Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva, were responsible for transforming Sri Lankan cricket.

Their collective performance brought an unexpected victory at the 1996 World Cup and persuaded the established powers to arrange extended Test tours in Sri Lanka.
In particular it was Murali, under Ranatunga's captaincy, who led the evolution from underdog to formidable cricketing force.

"I think Sri Lanka will be extremely lucky if it gets another Muralitharan within the next 100 years," Ranatunga told the BBC.

Kent spinner Malinga Bandara agrees, saying: "I think Murali's achievements with bowling are equal to Sir Donald Bradman's remarkable achievements from the bat."

Sanath Jayasurya, meanwhile, has harvested his natural talents with bat and ball.

"I think Jayasuriya is a natural player, both batting and bowling, who actually does not need any coaching," said Champaka Ramanyake, Sri Lanka's bowling coach.

Nicknamed "Master Blaster", Jayasuriya was instrumental in introducing an aggressive batting style - together with Romesh Kaluwitharana - as the opening batsman. His unpredictable batting helped Sri Lanka to win the World Cup and made him player of the tournament.

"There have been occasions that fans left the ground when they learnt that Jayasuriya was not playing," said Ramanyake.

Rating Vaas as the best-ever fast bowler Sri Lanka has produced, Ramanyake believes his contribution has been key to Murali's record success.

"In cricket we talk about pairs. Since 1996, it was Vaas who supported Murali from the other end, while Murali was taking wickets," said the bowling coach.
Vaas also contributed with his patient batting style.

"I think Vaas, with his overall performance, was unlucky not to be appointed as a captain. That is what happens when you are surrounded by a very talented group," said Channaka de Silva, sports editor of the Daily Mirror English.

The trio may yet be re-united, for the last time, at the 2011 World Cup, which will be hosted by Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh.

Both Murali and Jayasuriya are still members of the national team for the shorter version of the game, while Vaas faces an uphill battle despite his good form for Northamptonshire.

"I have been knocking on the door to get back to the ODI team but the selectors have been coming up with different excuses," Vaas told the BBC Sinhala service.

Beyond that tournament, how will Sri Lanka cope without the presence of three legends in the dressing room?

"I think Sri Lanka won't notice a huge impact in the short term," says de Silva.
"Australia, for example, went through a downward tendency long after the departure of many senior players," he said.

Mahela Jayawardene's 10th Test hundred at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo on Tuesday may be a clear example of the team's new direction.

"The game won't disappear just because players retire," says Ramanayake. "But of course we may not see similar records and performance in the near future."

While Sangakkara and Jayawardene may feel the absence of three veterans in the dressing room, the younger generation will be assigned with the difficult task of carrying on.

For the moment, though, it seems it is business as usual for the Sri Lanka squad.

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